Hawks Lose Heart

By George Ofman

Autumn has arrived. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks and their rabid fans, Adam Burish has left.

An off-season of miscalculations, dismissals, questions about a shady shoulder and one infamous cab ride has amounted to a rather bumpy few months for an organization that galvanized a city. Now, a gritty and extremely popular player is out six months with a torn ACL in his right knee. The injury occurred Sunday night in a pre-season game.

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  • Burish is not the best player on the Hawks, not by a long shot. He's a fourth-line winger who doesn't score very often. He has just 17 points in 156 regular season games. He's considered one of the enforcers, an odd moniker found only in hockey.

    What Adam Burish does is stir the pot. He invigorates the Hawks with an unyielding aggressiveness.

    He's a spinning top on skates who happens to be a solid checking and defensive forward, an excellent penalty killer and a thoroughly aggravating SOB to the opposition.

    And he fights a lot, which is one reason the fans love him.

    He's also a leader, which has gained him great respect among his teammates.

    The media mobs him because he's an engaging figure who is arguably the best soundbite in town.

    And while the Hawks employ some very worthy talent in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and several others, in some ways Burish is the heart and soul of the team.

    This heart just stopped beating.

    Burish has been here before, only in a far more different and difficult circumstance. His heart almost literally stopped beating.

    Burish was 17 when he, his mother and sister were traveling from Madison, Wisconsin, to Minneapolis for a hockey tournament. His sister, Nikki who was only 16 at the time, was behind the wheel of a BMW 3-series when she lost control of the car, went into a ditch and rolled over several times. Burish, who was asleep at the time, was thrown some 40 feet from the car. He told the Tribune's Melissa Issacson, "I should have been killed. I should be dead." His mother and sister survived unharmed. Burish wasn't so lucky.

    His left knee was shattered. His ribs and lungs were damaged. "I don't know how I didn't die," he said.

    Forget about playing hockey again. The doctor was more concerned whether Burish would walk again.

    Six weeks after surgery, he went on a boat ride with a friend, slipped getting off the boat and tore off his knee cap.

    More surgery, more rehab time.

    Just a few years later, he was the captain of Wisconsin's NCAA championship team.

    This is truly heart and soul.

    Fast forward to last season's playoffs.

    Burish Identified himself as a whirling dervish on ice. If there was a body, he would hit it. He stimulated action like a hamster on Red Bull.

    It didn't matter whether the Hawks were leading or trailing. Burish would hop over the boards and provide instant energy.

    The Hawks made it to the conference finals only to lose the dreaded Detroit Red Wings in five games. But Burish established himself as more than just a so called "enforcer." He was very a much part of a team on the rise, a team close enough to be called a Stanley Cup contender.

    Now he has to rehab again. Burish could return for the last month of the season and the playoffs which the Hawks are expected to make again.

    The Hawks believe they have the depth to cover the loss of Burish. But it's hard to replace the kind of player Burish represents. It's a unique combination of effervescence, toughness and leadership plus the ability to deal with the media in a manner few are able to do.

    It's a void the Hawks will have to deal with as they prepare to embark on a season of great expectations.

    -

    George Ofman, an original member of The Score and a veteran of NPR, has covered more than 3,500 sporting events over the course of his career. Comments welcome.

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